The Victorian Flower Oracle - Karen Mahony, Alex Ukolov, and Sheila Hamilton
“…Grandville…creates atmospheres of elegance and tranquility but also, in some cards, a sense of oddity and the bizarre that can be quite entrancing. He is an acute and witty social commentator. Few books are available nowadays on Grandville, and original prints of his work are scarce and expensive. One hope we have for this oracle is that it will bring this wonderful artist to a wider public.” – From the companion book

From porcelain to wall coverings, engravings to clothing, flowers adorned the world of Victoriana. Not only was growing and arranging beautiful flowers a hallmark of the sophisticated woman, but also the ability to decode the meaning of flowers. With the popularity of Florigraphy, a complex of system of assigning meaning to various flowers, sending and giving bouquets were a form of communicating messages.

A sprig of mint among a bouquet would mean “I find you refreshing”, while dark pink roses signified gratitude. By combining various flowers—even arranging them bent to the left or right—givers and receivers participated in a secret language…the Language of Flowers.

In 1847, former social satirist turned book illustrator, artist JJ Grandville published Les Fleurs Animees in Paris. An English edition appeared in New York City later that year entitled The Flowers Personified. Of all his work, Grandville considered his floral engravings his favorite work, and they form the basis for The Victorian Flower Oracle.

Comprised of quiet hues and delicate illustrations upon a creamy background, The Victorian Flower Oracle covers a surprisingly wide range of human emotion and predicaments: from sorrow to sympathy, vanity to hope, shyness to revenge. Also personified are states like faith, wishful thinking, prosperity, competition, purity of motives, and prickly situations. For example, the Water Lily card depicts Faith/Piety as a nun enshrouded with lush green leaves as her habit, while Hawthorn, representing "A Necesasry Evil", shows two young women as hawthorn trees shrinking back in horror as a pair of pruning shears assails them. Because of this range, this 40-card deck can make an accessible—yet pointed—oracle.

Karen Mahony and Alex Ukolov of baba studio in Prague designed The Victorian Flower Oracle—the same creative team that birthed The Victorian Romantic Tarot, The Baroque Bohemian Cat’s Tarot, and The Tarot of Prague. Sheila Hamilton wrote the poetic, exquisitely fascinating 132-page companion book, which provides extensive information on each flower—including Latin names, historical and literary references, and Victorian usage.

Ms. Hamilton also supplies keywords and phrases for each card, as well as thorough interpretive possibilities, sample readings and spreads. In fact, there are three original spreads created expressly for The Victorian Flower Oracle: the 3-card Nosegay Spread, the 5-card Posy Spread, and the 7-card Bouquet spread.

Now, if all this sounds a bit too girly and fluffy to you, let me assure you that this tomboy—who has no experience (or interest) in gardening—found the companion book to be utterly engaging. Not for one moment was I bored discovering why Ophelia strewn pansies in the water before drowning herself (the pansy was a symbol of “vain love”) or that crystallized violets were the epitome of Victorian cake and dessert decorations.

Another interesting tidbit I learned: my favorite band is the prog-rock Canadian trio Rush. They have a song called The Temple of Syrinx, and although I didn’t know what Syrinx meant, I never took the time to look it up. Thanks to Ms. Hamilton, I found out that the botanical name for lilac is Syringa, which derives from the Greek word “syrinx”—meaning “pipe” or “flute”. Apparently, Syrinx was a nymph who transformed herself into a reed to hide from Pan. Pan then turned this reed into the first flute, delighting all with the music.

Each card depicts a flower personified—often quite amusingly—along with the name of the flower and a keyword or phrase. Here are but a few cards from The Victorian Flower Oracle:

• Flax – Skills, Crafts
• Violet – Shelter, Retreat
• Daisy – Family Matters
• Rose – An Influential Person
• Cornflower and Poppy – An Admirer
• Hemlock – Treachery, Deception
• Lilac – A Message
• Dahlia – Choices
• Opium Poppy – Dreams, Illusions
• Pomegranate Flower – Joy

The cards measure approximately 5 x 3 inches and the reversible backings feature muted graphite-colored background with attractive golden scrollwork (yes, it shines!) in the fore.

I’ve used The Victorian Flower Oracle several times and found it to be surprisingly insightful. Surprising, because I honestly didn’t expect much from it. I wasn’t attracted to the artwork at first glance, but Grandville’s wit and whimsy—brought to life by Ms Hamilton’s prose and the art design of baba studio—was transformed into an unusual, unique, and clever oracle.

If flowers and all things Victorian enthrall you, The Victorian Flower Oracle will be sure to please. But should you not be into “girly” things (but still appreciate the sight, smell, and colorful history of flowers), you may be pleasantly surprised that an innocuous sounding deck can deliver such sharp counsel and penetrating observations about the human condition.

Below are 10 images from this deck:

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